In the last century, T&T has produced more than three billion barrels of oil, making it the richest country in the Caribbean and the third-highest GDP in the western hemisphere.
Its luxury of natural resources does not end there.
It is also home to the world’s largest natural deposit of asphalt—the La Brea Pitch Lake. Covering more than 100 acres, the lake contains more than ten million tons of the material that can be used as a binder, with aggregates, to surface roads throughout the country.
Yet, somehow, despite its natural and economic blessings, roads across T&T have been riddled with potholes making some areas impassible and causing damage to vehicles.
From Port-of-Spain to Point Fortin, Chaguanas to Cedros, Talparo to Toco, Rousillac to Rio Claro, and seemingly from just about any community one can name, people are complaining about the condition of the country’s roads.
These complaints come despite allocations upwards of $2.5 billion for the roads and bridges sector, as part of the Government’s public sector investment programme, in the last four fiscal years
Since fiscal year 2019, approximately $335 million was spent as part of the Road Construction/Major Road Rehabilitation Project, while another $201.9 million was provided to the 14 municipal corporations, and the Engineering Unit of the Ministry of Rural Development and Local Government to rehabilitate local roads and bridges.
Citing a survey done by his ministry, Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan recently claimed the condition of highways and main roads have an approval rating of 70 per cent. He confirmed, however, that approximately 50 per cent of the roads are in fair to poor condition.
Responding to grievances expressed by citizens, Guardian Media, in the last two months, travelled the country exploring road conditions.
“La Brea to Point (Fortin), going all the way down to Cedros. The road is real bad. We need the road to be fixed. Too much pothole in the road,” said Ashram Ganga-Bissoon, La Brea motorist.
“This road has been like this a little more than six years now. There has been no improvement. They are just coming and patching right through,” said a Longdenville motorist about the Edinburgh Road.
“For the last five-to-six years, San Fernando to Point Fortin has the worst roads in Trinidad. It’s a nightmare when I get on the road. When I leave Point Fortin, I dread it,” said Mrs Kalliecharan, a Point Fortin motorist.
“This so months now…they are overdoing it now. It’s about time they fix it. I don’t know what they are waiting on,” said a Petit Valley motorist about Morne Coco Road.
“This is a broken system. The system is horrible, man. They (MPs) need to come out of their air-conditioned offices and take a drive, see what is going on,” said Errol Ladmore, a Talparo motorist.
Yet, these types of complaints are not new.
For decades, regardless of which political party was in power, communities across T&T have pleaded for road relief.
While many complaints were addressed in one way or another, few were addressed in a manner offering a long-term solution.
Short-term, stop-gap measures
Instead, often, a series of short-term, stop-gap measures were implemented—ones a then oil-rich country could afford to repeat.
“Sometimes our country’s blessings (financial) may not be as much of a blessing as we could imagine, because it leads to other things that are not so desirable, one of which, I guess, is the whole issue of maintenance,” said Civil engineer Lacey Williams.
“There was never really any pressure put on us to really justify the development or expansion of the particular network (road) or the maintenance of that particular asset through stated policies and strategies,” the PhD candidate and former Ministry of Works engineer said.
Today, however, economic challenges, due to the likes of the pandemic and lowered oil and gas prices, mean the country can no longer afford what it once could, leading to further deterioration of many roads.
Funding for the Road Construction/Major Road Rehabilitation Project declined by 42 per cent ($130 million to $75 million) from the fiscal year 2019 to the fiscal year 2021, while funding for the 14 regional corporations for local government roads and bridges declined by 20 per cent during that same period ($77 million to $61.5 million).
Sinanan acknowledged that funding was a problem in maintaining roads in a recent interview with Guardian Media.
“Roads have to be resurfaced on a timely basis or else you would have deterioration on the roads…Funding is a problem. That is why what we are doing now is a lot of paved patching, meaning that rather than fix the entire road we look at certain areas in the road and mill it out and repave it,” he said.
Apart from wasting taxpayers’ money to patch and pave roads requiring rehabilitation, bad roads reduce productivity and increase stress, forcing citizens to spend more time in traffic.
“We, generally, have a well-developed road system. However, as most of us have experienced, with many of our roads, we seem to have difficulty in maintaining them in a manner that would not be detrimental to road users, in terms of car repairs and inconvenience,” Transport engineer, and senior lecturer at UWI, Dr Trevor Townsend said.
Burden on motorists
The road conditions are also increasing the financial burden on motorists at a time when many are already struggling to make ends meet.
“The condition of the roads directly affects the life of your vehicle’s suspension. The rougher the roads, the quicker your suspension is going to wear out, and get broken bushings etc,” Roderick Patience, the co-owner of Cousin’s Services Auto Car Care said.
At his auto shop in Petit Valley, mechanics have noticed a significant increase in damage to vehicular suspensions in the past year.
According to Patience, the typical type of service required by motorists moved from predominantly service-based—oil and filter change—to one that is more suspension-oriented, repairs to damaged suspension links, cradle arms, bushings, trailing arms as well as increased alignments.
“This has impacted a lot of customers. Number one, you have a situation of the general economy, and then, of course, parts—they are increasing in price. So, it’s that balance you have to strike between maintaining your car and your available income,” Patience said.
“We see a lot of pressure with that now—where people are having to stretch their dollar and yet maintain their car,” he added.
Depending on the type of vehicle, a damaged suspension can cost motorists around $10,000, according to mechanic and auto service manager Brian Silva.
Potholes can also be responsible for vehicular accidents.
So, just where does the country go from here?
“Trinidad doesn’t have the worst roads in the world, not even in the Caribbean…But my view is that we are at an economic point where we cannot afford to waste money. We need to make the best use of the money we have,” said President of the Joint Consultative Council for the Construction Industry and civil engineer Fazir Khan. One thing is clear—T&T cannot continue along the same old road.